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40% of phones now have touchscreens

Smartphone makers mimic iPhone interface

More than 15 million of the 38.1 million mobile phones sold during the second quarter used a touchscreen as the primary interface, according to market research company Canalys.

That's much more than a year ago, when just 3.9 million of the 33.6 million phones sold in the second quarter of 2008 had touchscreens. The success of touchscreens is of course tightly coupled with the success of Apple's iPhone, which has ignited user interest, said Mike Welch, vice president at Canalys. The number of smartphones that use a keyboard as its primary interface also increased, with 10.7 million sold in the quarter.

For its figures, Canalys decides what is the primary interface if a device comes with more than one input mechanism. Canalys then counts it as either as a touch, keyboard or keypad phone. So the Palm Pre and the Android-based G1 are, for example, counted as touch devices, according to Welch.

Like many market research companies, Canalys is upbeat about the smartphone market and is currently forecasting a 14 percent growth for global shipments in 2009 over 2008.

The main drivers behind the increased number of keyboard-equipped phones are sales of Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices and the increased interest in social networking, including Facebook and Twitter, which demand more typing.

Having a keyboard can be helpful when inputting lots of text, according to Welch. So-called 'soft' keyboards - which don't have tactile keys - have gotten a bit of a bad rap, which sometimes is undeserved, Welch said.

But in the end it is how the keyboard is implemented, and support for a landscape mode on the iPhone is a step in the right direction, Welch said. That change made it easier for people with bigger fingers to type.

The big loser is the keypad. A year ago more than 60 percent of smartphones were equipped with a traditional keypad. Today that share has dropped to about 32 percent.

In the near future, voice recognition will play a more important role on smartphones and supplement other technologies, according to Welch. Navigation applications are one area for voice recognition since only a limited vocabulary is necessary, according to Welch.

Voice recognition could also be used to input simple commands and text into smartphones, he said. But voice recognition technologies are still developing and do not work well enough to be ubiquitous on mobiles or PCs yet, Welch said.

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